Many people spend at least one summer of childhood doing odd jobs where they saved money, especially kids. They may sell lemonade to buy that one dream item their parents wouldn’t. Do you remember when you couldn’t get something you wanted, like a Nintendo? Maybe as a teenager, it was a used car that gave you a hint of freedom on the open road. These Redditors remember saving money to buy when they were younger. You can probably relate. So you’ll enjoy these heart-warming stories of motivation, drive, and passion.
Some show true humanity of thoughtfulness and sharing, which we all can use right now. Please keep in mind that some of these stories also express the hardships people go through to purchase some items that many of us take for granted similar to the top stars on the list of America’s richest celebrities. Enjoy the article for a good laugh, a humbling experience, and a walk down memory lane.
20. Video Games
It’s hard to believe that home video game consoles have only been with us for about half a century given their ubiquitousness in American homes today. For many children, they have been a prized possession since the introduction of the very first Atari system, with each subsequent generation of video game consoles having better graphics and technology. Unsurprisingly, many Redditors fondly remember saving up to purchase their own piece of the video game landscape. The thread was full of Nintendo in particular, with “Nintendo Entertainment System (NES),” “Nintendo Gameboy or DS,” and “Nintendo 64” being incredibly common answers.
Many Redditors excitedly shared their video game histories with /u/Calfee911 saying, “A Nintendo 64, I was 11 when it came out, my mum was a single mum, so I never got an allowance. I raked leaves, cut yards, did EVERYTHING I could to get that. And I got the donkey Kong 64 version with the rumble pack and all, still have it to this day.” Another remembered, “Original Nintendo. I was in 6th grade at the time and cut yards in the neighborhood to save up money. Nintendo had just been released, and every afternoon I’d call around and figure out where they had one in stock. 4th trip was the charm.”
What greater childhood dream is there than having a personal television in your bedroom all to yourself. Think about it: watching cartoons whenever you want with no boring news and no one to change the channel. For many Redditors, their first major purchase was their own television. /U/violingurl37 said her first purchase was a “13-inch color TV with a built-in VCR. Had to get in a lot of babysitting hours for that bad boy.” Another Redditor replied, “I bought one of these at 18. I worked two weeks straight at a drugstore to buy it (lots of OT).”
While most Redditors happily remembered their first tv purchase, a few were chagrined at how much further your dollar goes in buying televisions today. One poster commented, “Spent over 400 1980 dollars on a 12” color tv. Sad to think I could get a 70” flat screen for that now at Costco.” Others remembered mainly the hard work, with one saying, “I got a job picking strawberries at a local farm. Yes, I got my TV, but I was so sick of the sight and smell of strawberries that it was at least a year before I could even think about eating them again.”
Can you truly put a price on freedom and privacy? If you’re renting an apartment, it turns out yes, you can. Renting a single apartment is notoriously expensive since the cost of the kitchen, and main area square footage isn’t split up by the number of renters you would have in a two-plus bedroom unit. However, for some Redditors, that extra cost was worth having some quiet and a place to call their own. One Redditor boasted about their excellent new living conditions saying, “Lived in house and flat shares for ten years, finally moving to a place of my own. No more kitchen small talk, I’m going to savor that golden silence like a fine wine.”
Other Redditors who saved up for a personal living space agreed, with one Redditor elaborating on their hard work, saying, “I planned so thoroughly I am incredibly proud of it. Had to get my first credit card (which was incredibly difficult for someone on a working visa, even though I had a stable decent-paying job) and establish a good credit score within six months. In the end, what I found was over my budget, but it was nice, and there weren’t a lot of cheaper options. I took the plunge, lived a bit in poverty for a couple of months but ended up getting a promotion and could then live comfortably.”
Anyone who has a child in a school music program or has taken up an instrument as an adult knows that musical instruments can be costly. Even the most basic string instruments are hundreds of dollars, with some specialty instruments running even more. For some Redditors, the desire to play music led to them saving up for their first big purchase. One poster remembered their first guitar, “1986 Fender Stratocaster (Contemporary series). I got a job at McDonald’s when I was 15 and saved all my pay for the guitar. My dad helped me out with a little, but it was mostly all me.”
A surprisingly large number of Redditors saved up money to buy a trumpet, of all things, with /u/wakingdreamland saying their first big purchase was, “A trumpet. Professional brand silver trumpet. I wish I still had it, but it was stolen.” Another Redditor replied, “Same. It was a silver trumpet professional with three mouthpieces from Yamaha. I had won several solo concerts with it. Sold it when I joined the army.” Several more Redditors chimed in to say that their first major purchases were trumpets. Who knew the internet had so many die-hard young trumpeters! Aside from the trumpet section, most people saved up for guitars or bass guitars.
“When can we get a puppy?” is probably the bane of most parents’ existence, since inevitably, every child will, at some point, want a puppy (or maybe a kitten) of their very own to raise and love. Many Redditors shared stories of saving up money so their parents would allow them to buy their first pet, be it a puppy or a fish. One Redditor reminisced about their cat saying, “I got my first job at a hardware store at the age of 16! With my first paycheck, I bought cat food, a litter box, cat toys, litter, and a bed. Then I adopted my first kitten, Simon! He’s a grumpy boi, but I love him anyway.”
One Redditor shared their story of buying a neighbor’s dog to save it from neglect, saying, “My parents agreed, and our neighbors offered to sell him to us for $20, which is really cheap for a dog when you think about it, but a lot of money for a kid. I had that saved up and immediately agreed and promised I care for him and love him forever. Snoopy became my closest friend. He made me laugh, played with me, and would just hang out and watch TV with me. He was always there for me, especially through some tough times in my life where I was extremely self-destructive.”
Foreign travel is a dream for many, and two Redditors shared heart-wrenching tales of saved-up travel. /U/MagicMan54 said, “Worked two jobs and sold plasma while in college a few years ago to take my then-girlfriend and me to Europe. Neither of us had ever really traveled before, and she was always worried she’d get stuck and never get a chance to see the world. Thought bringing her along was a huge waste of money for the longest time after we broke up, but she died recently, and I found out she kept a box of mementos from our trip. In hindsight, I think that was probably the best money I ever spent.”
In another sad yet ultimately uplifting tale, /u/LeatherDaddy44 said, “That hits close to home, did something similar two years ago with an ex. She ended up with stage 4 cancer last month, and our Europe trip was her last memorable experience.” A kind commenter stepped in and truly summarized the experiences in the comment thread by adding, “Memories are never a waste of money.” While the vast majority of the saved-up for and long dreamt-of purchases in the discussion were physical objects, sometimes spending money on memories with a loved one can be the most valuable (or invaluable) purchase of all.
Do you remember back in the old days of music when compact discs (CDs) or even cassette tapes were the best technology? The radio was the primary source of discovering new music. Almost every tween and teen dreamed of having a great boombox to blare their favorite tunes in their room. One older Redditor remembered, “I saved up for a boombox with detachable speakers, cassette player, and a 5-inch black and white TV built-in. That sucker took 8 D batteries and was heavy as #$&@! This was the mid-80s, so I don’t remember the price.” A boombox with a screen was truly living.
Another Redditor fondly remembered their first boombox while lamenting the terrible jobs worked to get it, saying, “My first saved up purchase was a radio/tape/cd player boombox in 1998. Worked all summer long doing [expletive] jobs at a boatyard (scraping tar/bottom paint, cleaning up the yard, trying not to touch too many toxic things… good times). I still have it! It was the same one that the gang is using while stoop sitting and rocking out to Biz Markie on an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, lol.” Sometimes those first purchases are truly memorable, even if it’s only due to hard work.
For those too young to save for a car or who simply won’t be able to save enough money for a car, a bicycle can be the next best thing. A bike gives you the ability to get to a neighborhood job, start a paper route, and still gives you a bit of the freedom of the open road and the ability to go on longer adventures. Many Redditors shared warm memories of saving up for their first bicycle. /U/expired_thumbtack reminisced, “A mountain bike in high school. it was a Gary Fisher full suspension bike, back when full suspensions were fairly new. It was kind of a big deal for me.”
Another Redditor easily remembered their first bicycle since they still have it and use it, saying, “It was 1981, and I got my first job at Wendy’s and saved up to buy a bicycle. It was a Trek ($750 back then), which was an unknown small bicycle maker at that time, and all their bikes were hand-built in Waterloo, Wisconsin. And yes, I still have the bicycle.” It was built to last if it survived 30 years! Another mountain biker chimed in, “Mine was a Ross Mt. Hood in chrome silver with the rear brake by the bottom bracket.”
It seems virtually every teenager goes through a phase where they “discover” The Beatles and have their view of music fundamentally changed. For many 2000s teens, this transformation occurred with the beloved Rock Band video game franchise released a massive collection of Beatles-themed instruments and a video game of nothing but their music. To get the complete set was in the hundreds of dollars, and there was a competition to get every item from the limited edition release. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that several Redditors shared experiences of saving up as teens to purchase the fantastic set.
In fact, one Redditor, /u/bpanio, got a job and kept it just long enough to buy the set, saying they purchased “The whole Beatles Rockband set. With the drums, mic, and guitar. Only had that job for three weeks but got enough to buy it and was beyond happy.” Not to be outdone, another Redditor shared, saving up enough money now to buy a vintage John Lennon edition Rock Band guitar. The user said, “I’ve just saved up to get myself the replica John Lennon guitar from the Rock Band set; hopefully, the one I buy still works!” We hope so too.
Car ownership is probably one of the most dreamed-of goals for most US teenagers. However, before you can drive, you have to take the dreaded driver education course. In areas where that isn’t part of the school curriculum, that means hiring a private driving instructor. One Redditor lamented the expensive roadblock to their driving career, saying, “My father refused to pay for it, [and] wouldn’t allow me to take it till I had saved enough money to pay for it myself.” While it sounds harsh, maybe their father wanted to be extra sure they were responsible enough to drive safely.
Other Redditors remarked on how difficult it can be to save up money for driver’s education since so many jobs require driver’s licenses, to begin with. /U/DoserMcMoMo remembered, “I got caught in a vicious circle of ‘Well, I need a job to save up for a car and drivers ed, but I can’t get a job without a car or a license.’” Still, others were shocked that private lessons were a thing at all, with one Redditor chiming in to question, “You had to pay for driver’s ed? When I was in school, it was just a class we took.”
A prevalent first major purchase for US teens is their first car, typically a used beater that would embarrass most adults but serves as a precious slice of freedom for a youngster. Redditors shared countless stories of memorable first car purchases. /U/greatjanitor reminisced, “It was in 1998, I was 19 years old when I bought it. A 1987 Chevy Camaro. It needed some work, it looked like [expletive], but I loved that car. My friends liked it as well. My sister’s friends all told me it was garbage, but their parents bought them newer cars that they didn’t appreciate.”
Another Reddit replied, confirming that sometimes ownership truly matters more than the appearance or how new a car is, saying, “I was the same way with the first car I bought in 1985 at age 16. It was a 1978 Chevy Chevette and not the best-looking thing, but it ran and got me my independence. A lot of other kids my age were having new cars bought for them, but they didn’t appreciate them the same. It was nice to know [when I] parked in the school parking lot that I, in fact, owned the title to my car, not my parents.”
For many young girls, prom or homecoming is the first opportunity to dress up like an adult and be glamorous. That is especially true for girls who don’t celebrate quinceañeras. It’s become a complete cultural ritual with many high school girls. They get their hair done, buy an expensive, elaborate dress, and have makeup professionally applied. Of course, this all adds up to much money. Many Redditors remembered saving up money to ensure their first prom was a truly glamorous affair. One Redditor talked about buying her prom dress, saying, “I got a part-time job as a sign spinner on the weekends in high school to pay for my homecoming and prom dresses because I knew my mom couldn’t afford them.”
One kind Redditor shared a story of saving up to buy a homecoming dress for their older sister. The user said, “I started working odd jobs when I was super young (started babysitting/tutoring when I was in junior high). My sister, the super academic one, wanted a nice dress because she’d been nominated for homecoming queen, and we were all strictly second-hand clothing kids. Bought her the dress she wanted and she was super happy. Best investment I ever made, because she never forgets it when she lends money to my broke-[expletive] teacher [self].” Kind and enterprising can go together.
In the 1990s, there were few fashion status symbols higher than Doc Martens shoes. Whether you were a punk, goth, prep, or somewhere in between, all styles and fashions coveted the leather boots with the unique, hallmark yellow stitching. Redditor /u/HPLoveCrash remembered buying her first pair despite her parent’s wishes. The user said, “My Indo-Canadian parents would never have bought their daughter a pair of combat-esque boots, so I saved up from my tutoring job and bought my own. No regrets!” With how long Doc Martens can last thanks to their high-quality leather and manufacturing, it’s good that she didn’t regret buying them.
In a further testament to the longevity of Doc Martens, another Redditor chimed in that their first big purchase was, “A pair of doc martens! I still wear the same pair today.” Another Redditor, /u/almosthuman, got a job specifically just for the shoes. The user said, “13 years old. I got a job at Build A Bear in the mall. Finally saved up enough money to buy my first pair of patent leather Doc Martens.” You know, a clothing brand truly has earned a special place in cultural history when people get jobs specifically to buy an iconic fashion item from said brand.
It may sound strange to youth now with cell phones being ubiquitous and often containing high-quality cameras. However, stand-alone cameras were once a much desired and hard worked-for item for young people who enjoy taking pictures. One Redditor reflected on the work they put into getting their first camera saying their result was, “A 700 dollar camera. I cleaned and organized garages and sheds for months and months. Totally worth it. I was about 13 or so, and I’m very proud I achieved that. I will carry that mindset for the rest of my life.” What a lesson.
Showing that the item often truly isn’t as important as the lessons learned while working to earn them, one Redditor remembered a crummy video camera they toiled for. The user said, “I wanted to be a filmmaker, so I started working at my dad’s office over the summer to save up for a video camera that aged quicker than milk. I loved it tho[ugh.]” Another Redditor shared just how much cameras used to cost, saying their big purchase was a “Canon SL3 camera and 250 gig SD card, set me back $900.” It is hard to believe we used to pay that much for just a camera that couldn’t call or text.
If you were a science-minded youngster in the 1990s, there was no height you could reach greater than going to space camp. The commercials were ubiquitous on children’s networks and made space camp look like the coolest imaginable destination. The advertisements worked on one Redditor who remembered, “I saw a commercial for it, copied the address, wrote to them to ask for a brochure. I told the mailman to hold it for me until I came home from school and not let my parents see it. Got a job at 14 and worked as many hours as they would let me.”
They continued, “[I] opened a passbook savings account and saved my paychecks, my allowance from chores, my babysitting money, birthday and Christmas money for an entire year. I even had a jar of change that I had found on the sidewalk. I saved over $1,000 and then asked my parents if I could go. They said no, it was too expensive. I handed them the passbook that said I had more than enough. They couldn’t say no, and I went to space camp! My grandmother even chipped in an extra $200 for spending money. Best ten days of my young life!”
One enterprising Redditor realized very young that individual items for sale are often marked up quite a bit higher than bulk items and that this applied to their beloved Pokémon cards. Not to be overcharged, they made a plan. /U/the_loneliest_noodle reminisced, “When I was a kid, I realized buying Pokémon cards by the booster were a rip-off compared to buying a booster box. More money up front, but saved like 1/3rd the money overall compared to buying from my local comic shop. So I spent a summer as a kid with no job just hoarding every dollar I could scrounge up.”
They continued sharing their summer-long adventure. The user stated, “Finding coins, into the Pokémon fund, someone giving me money to buy myself a snack or something, into the Pokémon fund. I didn’t get an allowance. So, I’d do the normal kid thing of trying to find things I could do for neighbors and stuff to earn a few dollars, cleaning up their yards, walking/watching pets, etc. I think it took almost three months. However, I still remember that summer day where my best friend and I sat on the porch, drinking lemonade and opening 36 booster packs together.” What a fantastic memory.
When you’re a young kid trying to stand out in school, a cool backpack can make an outfit truly compete and set you apart. While they serve a practical purpose, they’re also a staple fashion item that you’ll always see within the hallways. Many Redditors shared stories of saving up money to buy themselves cool backpacks with fancy characters or name-brand labels. /U/otterfacegirl reminisced, “As a young child, I recall doing chores to earn money to buy a Tigger backpack from the Disney store.” Disney items are typically quite expensive, so that backpack was likely no joke.
Another Redditor worked hard to achieve the dream of a designer backpack saying, “I was 12-13yrs old, and I wanted a stylish backpack from “The Gap” to start high school. At the time, it seemed ridiculously expensive. It was 1990. I think it was one of those silly gap prices like $38 or $42. I still remember it. It was navy blue and green plaid, thick cloth, and brown leather straps. I had a chart that I made on the fridge to keep track of the cash I made babysitting. And I bought that backpack and had it all through high school plus…I loved that [expletive] backpack.”
One of the most heart-warming items multiple Redditors saved for was educational materials to better themselves or quench an overwhelming thirst for knowledge. One Redditor talked about an animal encyclopedia. The user said, “My mother was very poor, but she still let me earn a bit of money by doing extra chores around the house. There was this big animal encyclopedia at a local book store. It was $150 — way too much for even a present, so I saved up all my chore money for a very long time. I believe around a year. […] I spent days reading that thing and kept it for years, and in the end, I gave it to my younger brother.”
Another Redditor, /u/noUsernameIsUnique, shared their story of hoping to learn English. The user stated, “A physical Merriam-Webster’s dictionary from Staples, at the age of 10, so I could learn how to speak better English and go to a good college someday.” Given that their post was in perfect English, they accomplished their goal of speaking English well, and one can only hope they also achieved their dream of going to a great college. Few things show more dedication than a child saving up for an encyclopedia or dictionary! While most kids saved up for video games or tv, there were quite a few learners.
Many of the items on this list have been worked hard for by children. However, this one is for those a little bit older. Many Redditors shared stories of their first big saved-for item being an engagement ring for their intended bride. One Redditor couldn’t help but gush, “Saved up money for a year to be able to get my wife the engagement ring she fell in love with early into our relationship. We’ve been together since 2016 and married last year on Valentine’s Day. Almost a whole year married!” Given that the thread was in February 2021, one can only hope they happily made it to their anniversary.
Unfortunately, not all of the stories of engagement rings savings were quite as happy, with /u/jelasher explaining that their ring was for an ex-wife joking, “An engagement ring for my ex-wife [smiley face emoji].” They went on in response to say that their next, and even better, money spender was their divorce, quipping, “That divorce was the best money I ever spent :). Happily remarried a better match ten years ago and haven’t looked back.” While many of the reminiscences about long toiled-for items were a mixed bag in the comments, none were more so than the stories about engagement rings.
Most of the items on this list are fun, hoped-for items that most kids work hard for. However, it’s important to remember that sometimes kids still have to work just for basic needs like food. Redditor /u/dharma_curious1 shares a heartwarming (or wrenching, depending on your perspective) tale of working their first job to help their single mother keep food on the table. They talked about their first job, saying, “I got my first job at 14, as a dishwasher in a bakery. It was about half a mile from the house, and a really nice walk, as we lived in a large city, so there were sidewalks and crosswalks.”
They talked about how they used the money, remembering, “I used the money mainly to buy groceries and help with the bills. My mom was a single parent, who worked two full-time jobs, and raised her own two sons. Also, a boy from our neighborhood who had been effectively abandoned by his mother, and my mom raised him for eight years or so. She also helped take care of our roommates’ two toddlers because the roommate (also a single mom) was only working for minimum wage.” They ended their story with a simple plea, “Call your mom, folks. They’re amazing.”